WASHINGTON — Federal Aviation Administration chief Donald D. Engen said Thursday that 1985 was one of aviation's safest years, despite a record number of deaths as a result of plane crashes and terrorism.
More than 2,000 people were killed in civil airliner disasters worldwide in 1985, making it the deadliest year for civil aviation in history.
Other records set in 1985 included the worst single-plane disaster in aviation history when a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 slammed into a mountainside in central Japan on Aug. 12, killing 520 people.
On Dec. 12, 256 people, including 248 U.S. soldiers coming home for the holidays, were killed in the worst single chartered plane and military charter disaster in aviation history when a DC-8 crashed on takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland.
Air India Crash
On June 23, all 329 people aboard an Air India Boeing 747 died when the Toronto-Bombay flight plunged into the sea off southwest Ireland. It was the worst air disaster at sea. Authorities are investigating to determine whether the crash was caused by a terrorist bomb blast.
As 1985 ended, 10 people died in a crash in Chile and former teen-age pop idol Rick Nelson, his fiancee and five members of his band were killed in a crash in northeast Texas.
"I have great confidence that 1986 will be better," Engen said on NBC's "Today Show."
"1985 truly was one of the safest years with respect to one of the major safety indicators that we've had in the last 10 years, and that is the accident rate."
Engen said more people are flying in airplanes and "I think that (the record loss of life) was more a matter of happenstance than anything else. I believe that the accident rate . . . shows us that 1985 was continuing to come down, just as it has for the last 10 years."
Accident Rate Declines
Engen denied that deregulation has contributed to the aviation disasters, saying the accident rate has declined "some 37%" since deregulation became effective in 1978.
John Leyden, an FAA spokesman, said that although official figures for the year are not yet available, preliminary figures show the air accident rate for 1985 at a possible 10-year low.